The administrative arm of local government has an important role to play in implementing and promoting human rights in its day-to-day operations.
In particular, council staff need to consider human rights when they deliver services to, and engage with, the community.
By considering human rights, local councils not only comply with their legal obligations under the Charter but often improve service delivery too.
For this reason, it is important that human rights principles are embedded in all council operations, including policies and procedures, staff codes of conduct and position descriptions.
Many local councils have created guidelines for developing or reviewing policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Charter and to build a human rights culture in local government and the community.
Local councils should also provide human rights education and training to staff to ensure that they understand their legal obligations under the Charter and have the necessary training and information to meet those obligations.
Policies and procedures
One of the most effective ways of ensuring that council staff act compatibly with human rights is to undertake a review of council policies and procedures.
By integrating human rights into council policies and procedures, local councils can provide staff with guidance on how to carry out their day-to-day activities within a human rights framework.
In particular, a rights-based approach can enhance policies and procedures that are likely to impact on disadvantaged and marginalised members of the community.
The flowchart in Manual 2 of the Victorian Local Governance Association’s Human Rights Toolkit provides a framework for reviewing council policies and procedures for compatibility with the Charter.
Examples of integrating human rights into policies and procedures
- Baw Baw Shire Council’s Human Rights Charter Guidelines require policies to be reviewed against the Charter and set out a process for doing so. The guidelines require the following statement to be included in all policies: ‘This policy has been reviewed under the Human Rights Charter. Amendments have been made to ensure compatibility. The following rights are reasonably limited…’
- The Northern Grampians Shire Council policy template requires all policies to consider the Charter and include one of the following statements:
- ‘It is considered that this policy does not impact on any human rights identified in the Charter of Human Rights & Responsibilities Act 2006’ or
- ‘This policy has a positive impact on the following Human Rights; or
- ‘This policy has a negative impact on [type the right] Human Rights, but is justified by…’
- The Moreland City Council Human Rights Working Group introduced a new section, ‘Human Rights Consideration’, into the council’s policy template, which states that the implications of the policy have been assessed in accordance with the requirements of the Charter.
The following documents are examples of guidelines or tools local councils have developed to assist with the review of policies and procedures:
- The Boorondara City Council Human Rights Compatibility Assessment Tool and the Human Rights Compatibility Flowchart assist staff with reviewing policies, procedures and council decisions for compatibility with the Charter. The assessment tool requires the reviewer to consider the objective of the proposed document, the rights raised, the limitation on any rights, and whether any limitation is reasonable and justified.
- The Stonnington City Council Human Rights Impact Assessment Tool sets out a concise seven-step procedure for assessing whether a policy, report, plan or procedure is compatible with the Charter. Once an assessment has been undertaken, the reviewer must document the process and prepare a statement of compatibility.
- The Towong Shire Charter of Human Rights Policy “Sign Off” Sheet includes a simple checklist to ensure that existing or proposed policies are compliant with the Charter. Once the review is completed, staff must sign a compliance statement providing that the policy has been reviewed or developed in accordance with the Charter.